Posts Tagged ‘Hanley Ramirez’

Zimmermann Gem, But Nats Fall

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The Washington Nationals might not have found their replacement for Stephen Strasburg — but nearly so. The newly healed Jordan Zimmermann pitched a gem against the Florida Marlins on Tuesday night in Miami (giving up one hit and no runs through six complete innings), though the Fish won in the 10th inning, 1-0. Zimmermann was in complete control in only his second outing since returning to Washington — one year after having Tommy John surgery. He struck out nine and walked none in throwing just 86 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. “It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Zimmermann said after the game. “I kept the ball down and actually got some fastballs inside, which I didn’t do in my first start.” The Marlins’ winning run came in the bottom of the 10th inning off of Drew Storen, as Hanley Ramirez slid under the tag of Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

The game featured yet another Nyjer Morgan controversy, and one likely to seed the kind of bad blood that was present during the Nats-Cardinals series in Washington. In the top of the 9th, Morgan headed home for what would be the go-ahead run, attempting to beat a throw to the plate from infielder Ramirez. Morgan might have slid into home, but decided instead to move Marlins’ catcher Brett Hayes. The resulting collision (in which Morgan was called out) ended with Hayes on the ground, who left the game with an aching left shoulder. “Somebody who does that is looking to hurt somebody,” Hayes claimed after the game. But the Nats are contending that the Morgan-Hayes collision was a clean play: Morgan rarely slides feet-first into a base (and certainly not into home) and would not slide feet first with a catcher retrieving a ball thrown high. “I don’t have any problem with his decision,” Jim Riggleman said.

But in the wake of Morgan’s bump at home against the Cardinals during the last game of the last home stand (a bump for which Riggleman apologized), the collision on Tuesday night leaves lingering questions about Morgan’s intentions — and the Nats’ center fielder has been under pressure recently to produce at the same level that he did in ’09. Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider told the folks at ESPN 980 this afternoon that he thought the play, which has already generated controversy, was clean — a view that he articulated in his column on the game at Nats Insider: “Across the Nationals’ clubhouse, the prevailing sentiment was that Nyjer did the right thing. That came from players, from coaches and from front-office execs. All felt it was a clean play, and the right play.” But, during his radio interview, Zuckerman said that he doubted that Morgan would be with the Nats in center field next year. That may have little to do, however, with his play against either the Cardinals or his collision with Hayes. He is simply not the player now that he was for the Nats in ’10. And, in reflecting on tonight’s tilt in Miami, Zuckerman adds this: “If Morgan is in the Nationals lineup — and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be — don’t be surprised if he gets a fastball in the ribs.”

(above: Nyjer Morgan with Marlins catcher Brett Hayes — AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Hanley’s Team

Friday, July 16th, 2010

There’s something in each of us that doesn’t like a showboat. Muhammad Ali had a hard time catching on back in the early ’60s for precisely this reason and it’s why I never took to Eric Byrnes — who made several ostentatious attempts to collide with walls in pursuing deep fly balls. He once flapped his arms going backwards, just to show how hard he’d hit the bricks. Puh-leeeez. But, for some reason, showboating never bothered me when it came to Ricky Henderson or Mickey Rivers. And it doesn’t bother me when it comes to Mannywood either, though his case is a little different: Manny isn’t a showboat because he plays hard all the time and in every situation, but because he doesn’t. You can think of dozens of similar examples: I couldn’t stand Pete Rose’s “Charlie Hustle” routine, but loved it when Mark Fidrych sprinted off the mound. Fidrych was believable, Rose was showing off. Then too, I would have hated it if, say, Will Smith had done backflips at shortstop, but Ozzie Smith? Not so much.

Now then for the case of Hanley Ramirez, who is not only the most talented shortstop in the N.L., but probably the best shortstop in the N.L. Ramirez is as far from a showboat as possible, but he’s been accused of “dogging it” during games — which is widely interpreted by baseball pundits as hinting that he thinks he’s more important than the guys around him. That is, he’s a kind of showboat in reverse, an Eric Byrnes at half speed, a Mannywood of Miami. Back during the third week of May, for instance, Ramirez ran at half speed to first on an infield hit and then, the next day, he booted a ball and trotted after it . . . and after it . . . and after it. Fredi Gonzalez, the then-manager of the Marlins had had enough. He benched Ramirez and told him to apologize to the team. Cameron Maybin, Wes Helms and Dan Uggla all thought that would be a good idea. Ramirez refused. The situation was apparently cleared up after two days of sullen silence, when Fredi and Hanley “cleared the air.” Five weeks later, Gonzalez was gone.

While Ramirez has always claimed that his dust up with Gonzalez had nothing to do with his firing, you have to wonder. The Marlins have been down in the standings before and stuck with their manager. And Gonzalez was universally viewed as a top baseball strategist, all-around good guy and friend of the owner. In the end it didn’t matter. Just days after the firing, Bobby Valentine (another friend of the owner) was rumored as his “sure thing” replacement — but that never panned out. Was Valentine deep-sixed because of his view of the Ramirez situation? We can just imagine Valentine’s interview with fish owner Jeff Loria. “Hey Bobby, would you have benched Ramirez for not hustling?” And Bobby’s smiling answer: “You damn right.” The owner nods, squints, fiddles with the things on his desk and then gets up from his chair. “Thanks for coming.” As for Cameron Maybin, Wes Helms and Dan Uggla — well, they’re either headed back to the minors or they’re headed out of town.

Uncomfortable as it is, and as hard as it is to swallow, Hanley Ramirez probably has this right: he’s the best player on the team and maybe even in the NL East. And therefore (therefore), the rules that apply to Maybin, Helms and Uggla shouldn’t be applied to him. In fact, that’s what he said when asked if he’d lost respect for Gonzalez after he was benched. Yeah, he said. A little bit. “We got 24 more guys out there. Hopefully they can do the same things I can do. They’re wearing the Marlins uniform.” Here’s a rough translation: all baseball players are equal, but some are more equal than others. Or perhaps this — if you want to bench someone for dogging it, do it to a player who’s hitting .225. If Casey Stengel had actually benched Mickey Mantle for showing up for a game with a hangover (or worse), who do you think would have been out the door? And don’t claim that Hanley Ramirez is no Mickey Mantle. That’s not the point. The point is that Casey would never have benched Mantle. Ever. Because Casey knew what Gonzalez didn’t: managers don’t win batting titles.

Fish Rap . . .

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

After going 4-4 during their recent road trip, the Washington Nationals return home for a six game set against Florida and Arizona. It’ll be a test: tonight the Nats face fireballer and Marlins’ ace Josh Johnson, the Miami nine’s most impressive starter among an otherwise young set of effective pitchers. You might remember that the Marlins started the season hot: with all the commentators oohing and ahhing about how they were the team to beat in the NL East. But as good as they were in April, south Florida’s best were only so-so in May and June. Ricky Nalasco (5.00 ERA) couldn’t seem to get past the fifth inning, Chris Volstad (6-8, 225) was knocked around, and fill-ins Sean West and Andrew Miller were up and down. Only Johnson seemed to be able to win consistently.

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But in July the Phish kicked it into a higher gear. Nalasco seemed to have solved his command problems, Andrew Miller and Sean West started producing at the back of the rotation, and Chris Volstad wrestled his ERA to under 4.00.  The result is that the Marlins are now sixth in the NL (13th in the majors) in pitching (ranked by ERA), with the inconsistency that marred their performance in May and June a fading memory. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — Josh Johnson has emerged as one of the NL’s premier hurlers, with a 10-2 record to go along with a 2.87 ERA. As importantly, the team is filled with solid relievers, though Marlins’ skipper Fredi Gonzalez has yet to decide between using Matt Lindstrom to be the team closer, or to stick with the more steady Leo Nunez. The question has sparked somewhat of a debate in Florida, though it’s hard to see why. Lindstrom has great stuff, but he’s wild — Nunez is unexciting, but he’s steadier.

Nats fans know all too well that the Phish recently added Nick Johnson to their line-up. With a high on-base percentage and a good glove at first, he might be the guy who provides the necessary spark for the Marlins to overtake the Phillies in the NL East. It’s not out of the question, though the Marlins have to be scratching their head over why a line-up with big bats has been anything but. That might be about the change. While the rest of the league has focused on getting past shortstop Hanley Ramirez (for good reason), the recent Florida heroes have been Dan Uggla and Cody Ross — the two hit back-to-back come-from-behind homers in the 9th inning against the Cubs on Sunday to seal the team’s most dramatic 2009 walk off knuckle-biter (the Marlins won, 3-2). That the Ross-Uggla tandem might finally be hitting again is good news for the Phish, as both have been struggling of late. The team has had to rely on the bat of Jorge Cantu and a suddenly revived Ross Gload. The Nats take on the Marlins tonight at Nationals Park, with J.D. Martin facing off against the ace of the Florida staff. The Marlins have won ten games in a row against the Nationals.